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CBS angers fans by pulling plug on Nelson Classic

In the all-important sweeps period, CBS decided that "Jesus" was more important than golf -- even though that violated its contract with the PGA Tour.

CBS Sports pulled the plug at about 6:40 p.m. EDT Sunday as the GTE Byron Nelson Classic went to its third sudden-death playoff hole, fearing another hole might run into prime time and throw off a schedule leading to the highly hyped "Jesus" miniseries.

The last thing viewers in every region but the West Coast saw was Jesper Parnevik and Davis Love III making birdies on the second playoff hole, while Phil Mickelson lipped out his birdie putt and was eliminated.

Parnevik defeated Love on the next hole with a par. The tournament ended at 6:52 p.m.

"The PGA Tour is deeply disappointed that golf fans in most areas of the country were deprive of the ability to see the conclusion ... of a dramatic playoff," commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement.

"The tour is particularly disappointed in light of the fact that the tour's contract with CBS requires the network to stay with its tour coverage until at least 7 p.m."

Finchem said CBS has assured the tour that such a violation won't be repeated.

"Nobody at CBS is happy when something like that happens," said LeslieAnne Wade, vice president of communications for CBS Sports, who spent most of today taking calls from golf fans.

Wade said the network gauged how long it took to play the first two holes, and estimated that the third hole would have gone past 7 p.m.

The sweeps period is critical, because advertising rates are established based on this month's viewership. Golf has a smaller audience compared to those who watch "60 Minutes."

CBS feared that if the third playoff hole went beyond 7 p.m., viewers who tuned in for "60 minutes" might go to another channel -- and likely stay there the rest of the night. Adding to the dilemma was the fact the "Jesus" miniseries is a two-night program.

By contract, CBS cannot bail out in the middle of a hole. It is required to continue with an extra hole as long it begins before 7 p.m.

"Hindsight is everything," Wade said, offering more an explanation than an excuse. "If there was one stroke left to resolve the tournament, we were not going to wait."

It could have been even stickier.

Tiger Woods, who is invaluable to golf ratings, had his lowest final-round score ever -- a 63, which included another eagle from the fairway -- but missed the playoff by one stroke.

Would CBS had stayed if Woods were in the playoff?

'It would have been an extra question to look at,' Wade said. "I don't think in the end the answer would have been any different. We had to join our prime-time schedule."

The overnight rating from the nation's largest markets for the Nelson Classic was 4.0, up 25 percent from last year. The overnight rating from "Jesus" was 15.0.

The rating is the percentage of the nation's TV households tuned to a program.


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